Times and Tides

'For the poor always ye have with you'. No one who has walked down the Strand or along High Holborn after visiting the theatre during this last decade will challenge St Luke's statement. 'Civilised' societies have usually tried to do something about their poorer members, though often rather less than 'uncivilised' ones. The 'uncivilised' have either eliminated those who could not look after themselves, or sheltered them on an extended family basis. The 'civilised' have institutionalised care, which is often resented for its condescension and inadequate provision.

The Romans had their poor relief. For Cicero 'liberalitas' was a virtue becoming to the well-to-do. The Lex Claudia of 58BC was a handout of free corn to the citizenry. The logical outcome of this was an influx of dispossessed country folk to the great towns. The demand could not be met, and slavery was the remaining option.

Judaism stressed the importance of caring for the Chosen People. It was the Good Samaritan who broke down the barriers. Early Christianity took the criteria for salvation in Matthew's Gospel very seriously. It was not about attending official worship: the acid test was whether you had fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the sick and prisoners, taken in the homeless and, (with the help of the book of Tobit, to bring the number of good deeds up to seven to match the Seven Deadly Sins), buried the dead. The ideal did not survive Constantine's bringing of wealth and power to the Church in the early fourth century.

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